The random thoughts of a sceptical activist

Science

WDDTY: Waging war on “doctor-induced disease”

What does the two-decade-old ‘endorsement’ by The Times really say?

Any reader not aware of the current fuss and bother over the What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine can find a comprehensive list of blog posts, etc curated by Josephine Jones: WDDTY: My Master List.

In a recent spat — after The Times published an article by Tom Whipple (Call to ban magazine for scaremongering) — WDDTY posted a scan of part of a 1989 Times article that appeared to praise their original (online subscription) publication of the same name, saying it was “A voice in the silence”.

WDDTY use this same endorsement 24 years later on their main website, the WDDTY subscription website for their latest glossy, supermarket edition (although they get the quote mixed up with others) and in the glossy magazine itself.

Despite calls for them to publish the complete article, its editor, Lynne McTaggart, has not obliged, so I will. Continue reading

Stop this unscientific meddling

The exposé  by Prof David Colquhoun of the interference by the Department of Health — at the behest of homeopathy promoters — in the publication of impartial, scientifically-based information about homeopathy on the NHS Choices website has been covered by the Guardian and the Daily Mail this past week.

Damned by their own words, the DoH said in response to the draft submitted by the editors of NHS Choices that mentioned the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s comprehensive Evidence Check report on homeopathy:

Can we remove this statement? This report is really quite contentious and we may well be subject to quite a lot of challenge from the Homeopathic community if published.

The statement was removed. What NHS Choices were eventually told to publish was a biased sop to homeopathy, including a list of the main homeopathy trade bodies and a list of medical conditions homeopathy could, apparently, treat.

Andy Lewis, on his excellent website, The Quackometer, asked that we contact our MP over this to demand NHS Choices be allowed to replace this biased page with one that properly reflects the scientific consensus on homeopathy so that the public can make properly informed choices in their health care.

Below is our email to our MP. We urge all those concerned about the public being given unbiased information to write to your own MP — please feel free to use whatever you feel useful.

We are concerned to read that the Department of Health has been interfering with the content of the NHS Choices website to the detriment of the public’s ability to make informed choices about health care.

It was reported in the Guardian on 13 February (Prince’s charity lobbied government to water down homeopathy criticism) and in the Daily Mail on 15 February (Homeopathy charity run by Charles ‘cowed civil servants’ into supporting the therapy) that the NHS Choices website editor had been prevented from stating the lack of scientific evidence for homeopathy for fear of lobbying from the ‘homeopathy community’. This debacle came to light after a Freedom of Information request by Professor David Colquhoun.

As a result of this interference, the page on homeopathy as it stands now is in danger of misleading the public into thinking that homeopathy may be able to treat potentially serious medical conditions such as asthma, ear infections, high blood pressure and depression when there is no scientific evidence to suggest this is the case.

In his response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s Evidence Check report on homeopathy (which recommended removal of all NHS funding for homeopathy because of the complete lack of scientific evidence), the Secretary of State for Health stated:

10. In order for the public to make informed choices, it is therefore vitally important that the scientific evidence base for homeopathy is clearly explained and available. He will therefore engage further with the Department of Health to ensure communication to the public is addressed. His position remains that the evidence of efficacy and the scientific basis of homeopathy is highly questionable.

He also stated:

14. The Government agrees that, when looking at the evidence base for efficacy, it is important to focus on the most scientifically robust studies and evidence.

It is therefore incomprehensible and deplorable that the Department of Health believes it now acceptable to tell the public that homeopathy can be used to treat the following:

  • asthma
  • depression
  • ear infections
  • hay fever
  • other mental health conditions, such as stress and anxiety
  • allergies, such as food allergies
  • dermatitis (an allergic skin condition)
  • arthritis
  • high blood pressure

For such a highly respected, informative and authoritative source of sound medical information such as NHS Choices to have been forced by the DoH into publishing such erroneous information on homeopathy is disgraceful and unacceptable.

This can only lead to the public being mislead and potentially making ill-advised and dangerous health care decisions.

As we are sure you are aware, the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has recently made clear that homeopathy is ‘rubbish’. The DoH needs to heed this advice and allow NHS Choices to completely re-write the page on sound scientific and evidence-based principles.

We also note that Anna Soubry recently stated to the House:

The Department [of Health] does not maintain a position on any particular complementary or alternative medicine treatments including homeopathy.

We therefore ask you to request that the Secretary of State for Health explain these actions and that he allow NHS Choices the freedom to ensure that the public can make the informed choice that are entitled to make based on sound scientific evidence and principles and not to have that distorted by vested interests.

We look forward to receiving your reply.

Thanks and best regards.

I’ll let you know what response we get.

That ‘neutral’ Swiss homeopathy report

What does the Swiss Government really think about homeopathy?

By Sven Rudloff and Zeno

Jump to Postscript

A lot has been made by homeopaths about the ‘neutral’ Swiss Government’s report and its unequivocal support of homeopathy. It’s been lauded by the luminaries of the homeopathic world as further proof — as if any was needed, of course — that homeopathic ‘medicines’ are superior in every way to those dangerous and expensive pharmaceutical drugs.

Arch proponent of homeopathy, Dana Ullman, proclaimed:

The Swiss government’s exceedingly positive report on homeopathic medicine

The Swiss government has a long and widely-respected history of neutrality, and therefore, reports from this government on controversial subjects need to be taken more seriously than other reports from countries that are more strongly influenced by present economic and political constituencies.

In late 2011, the Swiss government’s report on homeopathic medicine represents the most comprehensive evaluation of homeopathic medicine ever written by a government and was just published in book form in English (Bornhoft and Matthiessen, 2011). This breakthrough report affirmed that homeopathic treatment is both effective and cost-effective and that homeopathic treatment should be reimbursed by Switzerland’s national health insurance program.

The provisional reimbursement for these alternative treatments ended in 2005, but as a result of this new study, the Swiss government’s health insurance program once again began to reimburse for homeopathy and select alternative treatments. (Source, cached)

Ullman again:

this report from the Swiss government has confirmed the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of homeopathic treatment. (Source, cached)

The Society of Homeopaths:

Swiss scientists endorse homeopathy evidence

Report says homeopathic medicine is clinically effective

A comprehensive and authoritative research study by Swiss scientists has offered an unambiguous endorsement of the evidence base for homeopathy as a clinically effective system of medicine.

Their report, part of a Swiss government evaluation of complementary and alternative medicines, gives a massive boost to the growing body of research underpinning the therapeutic effects of homeopathic medicine. (Source, cached)

The Faculty of Homeopathy and the British Homeopathic Association:

Evidence for homeopathy builds

Long-awaited English translation of Swiss study endorses evidence for homeopathy

This important report addresses the evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathic therapy in everyday use (i.e. the real world), its safety and its cost-effectiveness.

The authors, Doctor Gudrun Bornhöft and Professor Peter Matthiessen, state: “There is sufficient evidence for the preclinical effectiveness and the clinical efficacy of homeopathy and for its safety and economy compared with conventional treatment.”

Following on from the initial publication of this report, a public referendum in Switzerland in 2009 supported the inclusion of homeopathy and other complementary and alternative medicines in the Swiss national health insurance, with 67% of the people voting in favour. Earlier this month, the Swiss government passed legislation to enact the referendum’s conclusion. (Source, cached and source, cached)

GP and homeopath Dr Andrew Sikorski:

In 2009 a Swiss national referendum voted in favour of complementary medicine being part of the public health service which is now covered by the obligatory public health insurance system. This decision was partly informed by the findings of the 2006 Health Technology Assessment report commissioned by the Swiss Government on the effectiveness, safety and cost-effectiveness of homeopathy in general practice. (Sourcecached)

Many other websites have echoed these sentiments, with many taking their lead from Ullman’s article and possibly placing far too much reliance on what he had to say, eg Swiss Government finds homeopathy effective and cost efficient (cached).

You’d think from all this that the ‘neutral’ Swiss Government had taken to homeopathy like the proverbial quacking duck to water.

Of course, to state in this context that the Swiss Government has a ‘widely-respected history of neutrality’ is to conflate political neutrality with scientific objectivity.

As usual, research of truly homeopathic proportions, misrepresentation and cherry picking are the order of the day.

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Cancer in Totnes

I’m not sure how I came across it, but it was probably on Twitter.

A conference on alternative cancer treatments is being held in Totnes in Devon this coming Saturday, organised by Dr Stephen Hopwood (cached) of the Totnes Cancer Health Centre (TCHC).

Because of its content, I immediately complained to Consumer Direct (the central point for Trading Standards complaints) on 2 March who passed it on to Devon Trading Standards (TS).

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Which nutritional therapist?

Nutritional therapists are a varied bunch and come in several ‘flavours’, with the science and evidence-based practitioners at one end of the spectrum and at the other, what @skepticstu on Twitter referred to as the ‘Supplement Salesforce’.

At this far end, some seem to think many ills — particularly chronic conditions — are due to dairy intolerance or wheat intolerance, or both or ‘toxins’, or ‘imbalances’, or ‘chemicals’, or deficiencies. And, of course, they have just the personalised detoxification or supplement for you to address the ‘underlying causes’ of your health issues. And they may make extensive use of iridology, hair mineral analysis and applied kinesiology tests to work out your own, optimum health, individualised, holistic, supplement plan. For a price. All major credit cards accepted.

Others, I am sure, give good, evidence-based diet advice without a supplement in sight. They are not the problem here.

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Big business in Texas

As a last hope for cancer sufferers, his name regularly appears in the media with many a fund-raising appeal launched to enable sufferers to travel to the US to visit his clinic and be treated by the great man himself.

Even a cursory search of the Internet will find many grateful customers of Dr Stanislaw R Burzynski telling how he single-handedly saved their lives, when the NHS or other cancer experts had failed or who could do no more.

If it was your last hope — or the last chance for your child — then who could blame you for wanting to give it a try?

After an uncritical article in The Observer about the heartbreaking tale of a young girl diagnosed with a brain tumour and whose parents were desperate to raise the necessary money to take their daughter to see Dr Burnzynski for treatment, Andy Lewis — quite understandably — felt compelled to write about it: The False Hope of the Burzynski Clinic.

It was not long before Andy received a threatening email from someone claiming to represent the clinic. The tactics this representative used to try to silence Andy and to force him to take his blog post down can be gauged by the title of Andy’s subsequent post: The Burzynski Clinic Threatens My Family. Despicable.

Because there are so many unanswered questions about his treatment, the spotlight of skeptical thinking has been shining brightly on the controversial promoter of his own proprietary, ‘pioneering’ cancer treatments, but the intensity has been turned up all the way to eleven in the aftermath of these and other recent threats.

There has been an avalanche of blog posts in the last few days and it is to be hoped that the name of Burzynski will be appearing high up in search rankings alongside some more skeptical comment that the clinic might be used to or want. The blogger Josephine Jones is trying to keep the list of posts up to date: Stanislaw, Streisand and Spartacus.

Even Cancer Research UK felt they had to speak up: Hope or false hope?

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The end of an era

Professor Edzard Ernst recently announced his retirement as Director of the Complementary Medicine Research Group. What does this mean for him and for the future of critical research into the evidence for alternative therapies?

I interviewed Prof Ernst to find out.


Professor Edzard Ernst is critical of many sorts of complementary therapies. But his views of what works — and what doesn’t — are informed by critical examination of the evidence.

Many of his detractors would have us believe otherwise and see any critical examination of their pet therapy as a biased attack. Nothing could be further from the truth as anyone who understands the scientific process would understand.

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The Mass Libel Reform Blog – Fight for Free Speech!

This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.

The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition.

Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.

If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.

We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform.

Standing up for science and evidence

Science and evidence frequently have a hard time surviving in the seat of our democracy, but it seems it is going to become even more difficult in this new session, particularly where health is concerned.

David Tredinnick (Conservative, Bosworth) — he of astrology software expenses fame — put down four Early Day Motions about homeopathy a few days ago. They are unbelievably ignorant of science and Julian Huppert (LibDem, Cambridge) tabled amendments to correct Tredinnick’s misaprehensions and misunderstandings.

EDMs don’t really change much, but it is sometimes important to put a marker down. And, given Tredinnick’s and Nadine Dorries‘ recent appointments to the Health Select Committee, this is even more important. So I have just emailed my MP, Barry Gardiner, urging him to support Julian’s amendments:

Barry

We strongly urge you to support Julian Huppert’s amendments to EDM 284, 285, 286 and 287 originally laid by David Tredinnick. We hope we don’t have to explain the woolly thinking and utter disregard for evidence that is embedded in the original motions.

Julian’s amendments correct that nonsense: it is important that a marker is put down that Parliament will not support such ignorant notions and that it is made clear that homeopathy is dangerous pseudo scientific quackery.

With the astonishing appointment of David Tredinnick and Nadine Dorries to the Health Select Committee, we can see many battles looming ahead and we need to ensure that health decisions and funding are based on facts, not fantasy.

Two articles in today’s Guardian are worth reading if you are not familiar with Tredinnick and Dorries’ views on science:

Conservatives put Dumb and Dumber on the Health Select Committee by Martin Robbins

Health select committee lunacy by Adam Rutherford

We look forward to receiving your reply and your support

Thanks and best regards.

I’ll post any reply I get and urge others to write to their MPs asking them to stand up for science and evidence.

Richard Dawkins to address Lib Dem Conference to call for libel law reform

Today [Sunday] Professor Richard Dawkins will put the case for libel law reform to the Liberal Democrat conference proposing an amendment to the civil liberties bill.

The scientist and author is to appear as a guest speaker at Liberal Democrat Party Conference on Sunday.

Professor Dawkins will tell the conference that the chilling effect of libel laws on public debate about science and medicine, on writers and authors and on responsible journalism can no longer be ignored.

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